Diagnosis of depression: How partners manage the disease

Depression not only affects the everyday life of an affected person, but also has an impact on the entire environment – especially, of course, the partnership. Depressed moods, joylessness and lack of drive often make it necessary for the partner to take on more and more tasks and put his or her own needs on the back burner. If this state lasts longer, the feeling of helplessness often spreads and there is uncertainty as to how best to provide support.

Recognizing depression: Important signs

Many people are aware at a very early stage that something is wrong with their life partner. However, especially at the beginning of a depression, it is not possible to determine exactly whether it is just a phase or a really serious illness. The following three main criteria characterize a depression:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest and joy
  • Lack of drive and rapid fatigue

These can be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts

A diagnosis can be officially made if two of the main criteria and two of the other symptoms are present for a period of at least 14 days.

Challenges for the partnership

It can be quite stressful when the otherwise cheerful partner is suddenly constantly depressed and loses interest in any activities that may have been done together. It is also particularly painful when the affected person shows less and less emotion over time and it seems as if the life partner has become unimportant. The consequences are great uncertainty, sadness and anger.The German Depression Aid conducted a representative survey in 2018, which also found that 84 percent of people suffering from depression withdrew from their social environment and half of the respondents reported negative effects on their relationship. They felt misunderstood by their partner, often faced a range of accusations or got into conflict. It becomes clear how complex the effects of such an illness are and how overwhelmed a partner can be with such a situation. It is often very difficult to understand the behavior of the affected person, to offer the right support and not to neglect oneself completely. Such an ignoring of the limits and needs can in the worst case lead to the previously healthy partner also becoming mentally or physically ill.

Finding the right approach

It is undeniable that it is not easy to accompany a person suffering from depression. Nevertheless, there are some recommendations that help to deal with the cry for help and the simultaneous “leave me alone” of the affected person, as well as to take care of one’s own health at the same time.

1) Non-judgmental listening and sympathy
There is often the urge to appease the ill partner, to say that everything is not so bad and will soon be better again. Exactly this usually makes the affected person feel even more misunderstood and withdraws further. It is better to simply listen, to show sympathy for the partner’s emotions, to communicate that you take your partner seriously, that you are there and that you are aware of his or her suffering. Even if the ill person withdraws strongly and refuses to talk, it is advisable to signal again and again that the person is important to you and that you can talk to each other at any time.

2) Create a regular daily routine
This is precisely what depressed people find so difficult and can be a great support. Many do not even get out of bed. The structures should not be too tight, but perhaps there are opportunities for getting up together, regular meals, walks, fixed times for conversations or just being together quietly with a movie on the couch.

3) Perceive your own limits
As has already become clear, it takes a lot of strength and patience even as a non-affected partner. It is not uncommon for a partner’s illness to cause them to neglect their job, their own hobbies or social contacts, which can then quickly lead to their own illness. Many feel selfish if they also take space, but the sick partner can only be helped if their own resources are also filled. The supporting partner in the relationship should also speak openly about his feelings and communicate when he needs time for himself. Even anger about the sick person can be normal at times and should not lead to a bad conscience.

4) Organize help
It is insane to believe that you can help the partner alone out of the situation or that only the two of you can handle everything. There is a wide range of professional help available. Whether it is a self-help group, an outpatient psychotherapy or even an inpatient hospital stay. You can also provide support by giving the first impulse, making a phone call or accompanying your partner to appointments outside the home. But be careful not to take over everything from your partner! If he manages something himself, it increases his self-esteem and gives him the feeling of having control over his life. In the context of therapy, sessions as a couple can also be useful to understand the new situation and to find a good way to deal with it.

5) Exchange with others
Not only the affected person can get help, the partners should do so as well. There are self-help groups for this purpose, or perhaps it simply does you good when family and friends listen in.

As a partner, you should avoid this at all costs

As already mentioned, the relationship with a person suffering from depression can be very demanding and it should always be made aware that it is a mental illness and by no means the malice of a sufferer. For this reason, partners should by no means trivialize their partner’s thoughts, fears and worries and refrain from the following statements, which can easily slip out in a moment of excessive demand:

  • “Pull yourself together now.”
  • “Your bad mood is also dragging me down.”
  • “You actually have everything you need to be happy.”
  • “More exercise would do you good.”
  • “You’ll get over it.”
  • “After all, you’re physically healthy.”

Exactly these kinds of comments from close people make sufferers feel even worse, encourage further withdrawal and weaken confidence.

Beware of suicidal thoughts!

If your partner expresses suicidal thoughts or suspects that he or she might have some, you should act immediately! It is not true that people who talk about such thoughts do not act on them. Other warning signals are: putting your own affairs in order, saying goodbye to people or giving away valuables. What you can do in this case: express your worries, take your partner seriously and do not leave him alone under any circumstances.
Get help: In acute cases, take your partner to the doctor or call the emergency services on 112. Probably the most encouraging look is forward – depression is a mental illness that demands a lot, but is easily treatable. Make sure you realize that you can come out of this crisis even stronger as a couple and that the affected partner will always be much more than his or her depression.

  • Bischkopf, Jeannette: So near and yet so far. Living with people suffering from depression. Cologne, 2019.
  • Borst, Ulrike: Living with a depressive partner. Ostfildern, 2019.
  • Hautzinger, Martin: Ratgeber Depression: information for sufferers and relatives. Göttingen, 2018.
  • Hutterer, Christine & Rummel-Kluge, Christine: Depression. Doing the right thing. A guidebook for relatives and friends. Berlin, 2020.

Categories: Depression

Dr. med. Kjell R. Brolund-Spaether
Ärztlicher Direktor und Chefarzt Dr. med. Kjell R. Brolund-Spaether
Dr. med. Kjell R. Brolund-Spaether ist renommierter Facharzt für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, bei dem stets der Mensch im Mittelpunkt steht: Dank seiner individuell abgestimmten, ganzheitlichen Behandlungspläne verbessert und personalisiert er die psychiatrische Versorgung kontinuierlich. Seine umfassende Expertise in der psychotherapeutischen und medikamentengestützten Behandlung erlangte er durch sein Studium der Humanmedizin an der Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel, spezialisierte Weiterbildungen sowie seine langjährige Erfahrung in führenden Positionen. Seit 2019 ist Dr. med. Brolund-Spaether als Chefarzt und seit 2023 als Ärztlicher Direktor der LIMES Schlosskliniken AG tätig. 2024 trat er unserem Vorstand bei.

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